By Robert Tapfumaneyi
Mhangura: While many young girls’ dreams are to lead fruitful professional lives in future, the story is different for some teenage girls in this remote mining area of Mashonaland West where girls surrender their dreams through early marriages.
Most girls are enticed into the unions by free-spending artisanal miners and older men driving ex-Japanese cars.
One such girl is 20-year-old Florence Katuruza who is now a mother.
“I got married soon after I had completed my Ordinary Levels and fell pregnant at 17 years.
“There was no one to share with me information about my new condition,” she says tearfully.
Florence goes on to speak of an abusive relationship with her husband.
“My marriage was hell. Day and night I had issues with my husband and he was so abusive.
“I was always beaten up for being too playful. I was immature and learnt things the hard way.”
The abuses even spilled into her bedroom.
“We never made love but rough sex. And, when I complained, I was told sex is the main reason why I was in the marriage.
“Imagine going through this, week-in, week-out. I used to go back to my mother at home to beg for a bathing soap and some cooking oil.”
Florence’s life changed for the better when she got incorporated into the Sista 2 Sista support group being spearheaded by the National Aids Council (NAC).
“I am here to thank Sista to Sista support group which came to my rescue and the first thing my mentor asked me was on whether I knew anything about family planning methods,” she said during a NAC sponsored recent media tour to Mashonaland West.
“I had no clue about family planning and she refereed me to a local hospital where I got it for free. I had always thought one would be asked to pay for it,” she says.
Through the Sista to Sista support, Florence says she ventured into an income generating project and got a loan of just $5 to kick a small business.
“I bought one road runner chicken and started selling pieces of the bird. From the little profit, I bought two road runner chickens and my business started to grow just like that.
“I then ventured into sausages and mackerel fish for resale and the market responded well and my business grew again and again before I ventured into selling groceries in front of our house.
“My business keeps growing and now I can look after my child. My wish is to go back to school and study for my A Levels.”
However, Florence says when she tries to share her difficult experiences in her early marriage with younger girls but is often dismissed as a spoiler.
She is grateful her mother stood by her side even when she had disappointed her through the early marriage.
Nancy, another girl who has been through the experience, says it is difficult to convince most young girls to totally stay out of early sex and marriages as she is often seen as someone who was trying to deny them the thrills that come with adolescent life.
“I try as much as I can to talk to these young girls as from 12 years on the risks of getting married when one is still young but they often laugh at me,” she says.
“They are after these old men because all they want is money, money, money!
“But the challenge is these young girls will also be double crossing their young boyfriends who they also put at a health risk because both are still unable to negotiate for safer sex.
“Every time I try to share my experience with them, they think I am jealously trying to block them from enjoying what they think is enjoyable life.
“I am a good and bad example of early marriage.”
The Sista 2 Sista program is a support group for girls between 20 and 24 years that is working flat out to ensure young girls pursue their dreams and not rush into early marriages.
The programme also allows girls to share information on sexual and reproductive health and it also empowers them to start on small scale incoming generating projects.